President Obama struck back at Russia on Thursday for its efforts to influence the 2016 election, ejecting 35 suspected Russian intelligence operatives from the United States and imposing sanctions on Russia’s two leading intelligence services. The administration also penalized four top officers of one of those services, the powerful military intelligence unit known as the G.R.U. Intelligence agencies have concluded that the G.R.U. ordered the attacks on the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations, with the approval of the Kremlin, and ultimately enabled the publication of the emails it harvested. The expulsion of the 35 Russians, whom the administration said were spies posing as diplomats and other officials, and their families was in response to the harassment of American diplomats in Russia, State Department officials said. It was unclear if they were involved in the hacking.
Jill Stein’s bid to recount votes in Pennsylvania was in trouble even before a federal judge shot it down Dec. 12. That’s because the Green Party candidate’s effort stood little chance of detecting potential fraud or error in the vote — there was basically nothing to recount. Pennsylvania is one of 11 states where the majority of voters use antiquated machines that store votes electronically, without printed ballots or other paper-based backups that could be used to double-check the balloting. There’s almost no way to know if they’ve accurately recorded individual votes — or if anyone tampered with the count. More than 80 percent of Pennsylvanians who voted Nov. 8 cast their ballots on such machines, according to VotePA, a nonprofit seeking their replacement. VotePA’s Marybeth Kuznik described the proposed recount this way: “You go to the computer and you say, ‘OK, computer, you counted this a week-and-a-half ago. Were you right the first time?'” These paperless digital voting machines, used by roughly 1 in 5 U.S. voters last month, present one of the most glaring dangers to the security of the rickety, underfunded U.S. election system. Like many electronic voting machines, they are vulnerable to hacking. But other machines typically leave a paper trail that could be manually checked. The paperless digital machines open the door to potential election rigging that might not ever be detected.
National: State election recounts confirm Trump win but reveal hacking vulnerabilities | The Guardian
The US presidential election was correct, according to a crowdfunded effort to recount the vote in key states, but the review also highlighted the unprecedented extent to which the American political system is vulnerable to cyberattack, according to two computer scientists who helped the effort to audit the vote. J Alex Halderman and Matt Bernhard, both of the University of Michigan, campaigned in favor of a recount of the US presidential election, which was eventually spearheaded by Jill Stein, the Green party candidate. Only the Wisconsin recount was substantially completed, with the recount in Michigan eventually stopped and a potential recount in Pennsylvania killed before it had even begun. But the researchers say the recounted counties and precincts were enough to give them confidence that Donald Trump is the genuine winner of the election. “The recounts support that the election outcome was correct,” Bernhard told the Chaos Communications Congress cybersecurity convention in Hamburg, where he and Halderman gave a talk summarising their findings.
Editorials: The Electoral College Doesn’t Work the Way the Founding Fathers Intended | Robert Schlesinger/US News & World Report
Regardless of whether you want to preserve the Electoral College as it is, tweak it (as I do) or scrap it entirely, you have to understand that it doesn’t function today the way the Founding Fathers planned. I think this is worth pointing out in light of the animated responses I’ve gotten from readers regarding my last column, which called for reform by adding a set of bonus electoral votes which would be rewarded to the winner of the national popular vote. People seem to make a couple of errors in their reverence for the Electoral College. First, they misunderstand its purpose, and concomitantly they misunderstand what it does and doesn’t constitutionally entail.
Alabama: Department of Transportation: Alabama to expand driver’s license office hours after probe | AL.com
U.S. Department of Transportation officials said Wednesday that Alabama has agreed to expand driver’s license office hours after determining that black residents in the state were disproportionately hurt by a slate of closures and reductions in 2015. The federal agency launched an investigation last year after Alabama, citing budget concerns, shuttered 31 part-time offices where examiners gave driving tests about once per week. The state said the closures were aimed at the offices that issued the fewest licenses each year, but the closures also came down hard on rural and heavily minority communities. It left more than a third of Alabama’s 67 counties without a license office, including eight of the state’s 11 counties with a majority African-American population.
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein said Wednesday her abbreviated recount effort showed the vote “was not carefully guarded” in Michigan and should spur legislative action to require automatic post-election audits. Republican President-elect Donald Trump was poised to maintain his 10,000-vote margin over Democrat Hillary Clinton when Michigan’s hand recount was halted more than two million ballots in, but Stein suggested the rare glimpse under the hood of the state election system served an important purpose. “What we discovered is we do not have a system that we can trust,” Stein said in a radio interview on Michigan’s Big Show, citing complaints from Detroit election officials who said 87 optical scanner voting machines failed on Election Day, along with other documented vote count and ballot handling irregularities.
North Carolina: Judge puts GOP elections board makeover on hold after Roy Cooper sues | News & Observer
Governor-elect Roy Cooper filed a lawsuit Friday challenging the General Assembly’s special session law that revamps the state elections board. The lawsuit was the second filed in the waning days of Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration that challenge changes that were adopted by the General Assembly in a special session in December and signed into law by the Republican governor. On Thursday, the state Board of Education sued legislators over a law that would transfer their power to set education policy to the new state superintendent, a Republican. An attorney representing Cooper said at a court hearing Friday that more challenges could be filed next week by the new Democratic governor contesting other changes to his appointment powers – setting the stage for a contentious beginning between the state’s chief executive officer and the Republican lawmakers at the helm of both General Assembly chambers. Cooper is scheduled to be sworn in as governor as soon after midnight on Jan. 1 as possible, though his public inauguration is not taking place until Jan. 7.
Plaintiffs in an ongoing court battle over Texas’ 2011 district maps have filed a joint motion calling for the federal judges considering the case to issue a ruling by next month. The plaintiffs — including the Mexican American Legislative Caucus, the Texas Latino Redistricting Task Force and the League of United Latin American Citizens — sued the state in 2011, claiming the maps adopted for state House, Senate and Texas congressional districts were unconstitutional and harm minority voters.
The Gambia’s electoral commission building reopened on Thursday as the president said it had been shut for safety reasons rather than because of the country’s disputed presidential vote result. President Yahya Jammeh’s political party has lodged a legal complaint against the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) triggered in part by a vote recount in the days following a December 1 election, which ultimately confirmed opponent Adama Barrow’s victory, 22 years after Jammeh took power. The commission buiding was sealed off without warning by security forces on December 13, the same day the complaint to have the result annulled was lodged.
The British government said Tuesday that it would begin rolling out mandatory identity checks for voters, prompting a backlash from those who say the move could effectively disenfranchise millions. The controversy, with strong echoes of one that played out across the United States this year, turns on the question of whether identity checks are a reasonable tool to combat electoral fraud or are merely an attempt at voter suppression by another name. Until now, voters in every part of Britain except Northern Ireland have been allowed to vote without presenting an ID. But that will change under a pilot program announced Tuesday by Britain’s Conservative government. A photo ID, such as a driver’s license or passport, will be required in up to 18 different areas across England for local elections in 2018. If the program is successful, it could be expanded nationwide. Britain is next expected to hold national elections in 2020.
National: Obama expels 35 Russian diplomats as part of sanctions for US election hacking | The Guardian
The Obama administration on Thursday announced its retaliation for Russian efforts to interfere with the US presidential election, ordering sweeping new sanctions that included the expulsion of 35 Russians. US intelligence services believe Russia ordered cyber-attacks on the Democratic National Committee (DNC), Hillary Clinton’s campaign and other political organizations, in an attempt to influence the election in favor of the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. In a statement issued two weeks after the president said he would respond to cyber-attacks by Moscow “at a time and place of our choosing”, Obama said Americans should “be alarmed by Russia’s actions” and pledged further action. “I have issued an executive order that provides additional authority for responding to certain cyber activity that seeks to interfere with or undermine our election processes and institutions, or those of our allies or partners,” Obama said in the statement, released while he was vacationing with his family in Hawaii. “Using this new authority, I have sanctioned nine entities and individuals: the GRU and the FSB, two Russian intelligence services; four individual officers of the GRU; and three companies that provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.
The U.S. on Thursday released its most detailed report yet on Russia’s efforts to interfere in the U.S. presidential election by hacking American political sites and email accounts. The 13-page joint analysis by the Homeland Security Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation was first such report ever to attribute malicious cyber activity to a particular country or actors. It was also the first time the U.S. has officially and specifically tied intrusions into the Democratic National Committee to hackers with the Russian civilian and military intelligence services, the FSB and GRU, expanding on an Oct. 7 accusation by the Obama administration. The report said the intelligence services were involved in “an ongoing campaign of cyber-enabled operations directed at the U.S. government and its citizens.” It added, “In some cases, (the Russian intelligence services’) actors masqueraded as third parties, hiding behind false online personas designed to cause the victim to misattribute the source of the attack.”
America’s political system will remain vulnerable to cyberattacks and infiltration from foreign and domestic enemies unless the government plugs major holes and commits millions of dollars in the coming years. Despite expectations that the U.S. on Thursday will slap Russia with retaliatory measures for hacking the recent presidential race, major political, financial and logistical obstacles stand in the way of ensuring that hackers are locked out of future elections, not to mention an incoming administration that is dismissive about the government’s own allegations that Russia pulled off a widespread hacking campaign that fueled Americans’ wariness of the political process and possibly helped President-elect Donald Trump win the White House.
National: America keeps voting earlier — and it keeps not affecting turnout that much | The Washington Post
Mike Dawson of OhioElectionResults.com was curious about the extent to which the state’s early-voting rules affected turnout in its elections. That’s one of the goals of early voting, of course — to increase the amount of time people have to cast a ballot and, therefore, make it easier for those with tricky schedules to do so. Dawson analyzed presidential voting in each cycle since 2000, a period that overlapped with Ohio’s introduction of early voting before the 2008 election. His conclusion? “While early in-person voting and no-excuse absentee voting in Ohio has reduced waiting times on Election Day, it has had no measurable impact on increasing voter turnout,” he wrote. For those who spend much time looking at early voting, that’s not a big surprise.
Arizona was ranked worst in the country for electoral integrity in a recent postelection survey of political scientists. The Perceptions of Electoral Integrity survey asked political experts about elections in the states where they live in order to measure their perceptions of how well or poorly their state adhered to international standards of conduct before, during and after an election. Although it measures perceptions of electoral integrity, as opposed to actual electoral integrity itself, the methodology is widely trusted and used to compare electoral performance around the world. The concern is that just the perception of electoral fraud or corruption, even without actual proof of fraud, could lead to a loss of public confidence in the voting process.
Editorials: Florida’s felon vote: Destroying lives and wasting taxpayer dollars | Martin Dyckman & Darryl Paulson/Tampa Bay Times
Florida has what many consider to be the most rigid and unfair felony disenfranchisement law in the nation. The highly respected Sentencing Project declared in a recent report that “in 2010, more people are disenfranchised in Florida than in any other state and Florida’s disenfranchisement remains highest among the 50 states.” We are not thrilled that Florida leads the nation in denying more citizens of the right to vote than any other state. How far out of line is Florida? In the United States as a whole, 1.77 percent of whites and 7.66 percent of blacks are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction. In Florida, 10 percent of the voting age population (VAP) is disenfranchised, but 23 percent — or almost one out of four black voters — is disenfranchised. Nationally, about 6 million individuals have lost the right to vote due to a felony conviction; about 1.7 million or 27 percent of all those disenfranchised reside in Florida. The felon vote was part of a package of legislation designed to cope with the emergence of black voter majorities throughout the South after the Civil War. In 1867, 15,434 of Florida’s 25,582 registered voters were black, something that Florida’s white voters were unwilling to accept. In fact, it was not until after the Civil War that Florida banned all voters with a felony conviction.
New Hampshire: With Dozens of Election Law Bills on Deck, Here Are Five Issues to Watch in 2017 | New Hampshire Public Radio
From changes in voting registration to changes to party primaries or the Electoral College, New Hampshire lawmakers are preparing a slew of bills aimed at reforming the state’s elections. In all, at least 40 bills aimed at tinkering with the state’s election laws are in the works for 2017. At least fifteen of those bills come from just one lawmaker, Representative David Bates, a Republican from Windham who has made revising the state’s voting rules a top focus in recent terms. On one side of the aisle, Bates and other Republicans have their eyes on tightening up the rules around who can vote here, but there are lots of different, sometimes diverging, paths on what that would look like.
A fight over vote-counting that stretched beyond Election Day offers a likely preview of how Republicans may attempt to re-do North Carolina’s ballot-access laws in 2017. Earlier this month, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory conceded his narrow loss to Democrat Roy Cooper several weeks after the Nov. 8 general election. His concession followed a protracted debate over how ballots were cast, though the tug-of-war has implications beyond the election cycle. North Carolina voting-rights activists say little or no evidence of fraud has been found despite weeks spent reviewing formal complaints. But on Wednesday, the conservative-leaning Civitas Institute said it has formally requested information from six county elections boards and the state that could serve as evidence for changing voting laws at the General Assembly or as the basis for legal action.
Editorials: An overwhelming response on North Carolina Democracy article | Andrew Reynolds/News & Observer
Last week The News & Observer published my op-ed on the failing grade North Carolina received for our elections and democratic health. Boy did it touch a nerve. Hundreds of comments poured in and the article went viral on social media. After thousands of retweets, reaching over 5 million accounts, I stopped checking the stats. There were features in the New York Times, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Slate, Huffington Post, Politico, even PerezHilton.com. Paul Krugman, Howard Dean and Fareed Zakaria tweeted it out to their millions of followers. The story ran around the world. On Christmas Eve the op-ed became the lead on the Twitter home page. Perhaps I should not have been so surprised. North Carolinians are exasperated as they watch the erosion of their democracy. We yearn for real change but feel impotent in the face of frozen power. More than ever, people are hungry for ideas on how to reverse the decline. There were thousands of comments online and I received over 100 emails directly. The vast majority agreed that our democracy was in trouble and thanked me for seeking to marshal evidence rather than use bluster. However, a small minority were very angry. There were online threats and abuse on my voicemail. I was told to go ‘back to Africa’ (I am not from Africa), I was told I was worse than cancer, feces, a fraud, a moron and corrupter of young people.
Chris Suprun, a Texas Republican elector, caused a stir this year by raising the possibility that he would cast his Electoral College ballot for someone other than President-elect Donald Trump. Journalists bombarded the Dallas man with questions following his admission. Among them: For whom did he vote in November? He didn’t vote, it turns out. But he says he tried. “I would have voted for myself. I didn’t get that chance,” Suprun told The Texas Tribune. … In July, the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Texas’ voter ID law discriminated against voters in minority groups less likely to possess one of seven accepted types of identification. The state has appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, and Ramos is weighing whether Texas discriminated on purpose. Ahead of the November election, Ramos ordered a temporary fix: Folks without ID could still vote if they presented an alternate form of ID and signed a form swearing a “reasonable impediment” kept them from obtaining photo ID. That’s why Suprun believed he could vote when he showed up to an early voting location in Glenn Heights on Oct. 26, even though he did not have photo ID. Suprun said his driver’s license was inside his wallet, which he had left in a family van that was away for repairs. He said he arrived at the polls carrying his city water bill, cable bill and voter registration card — documents that should have fit Ramos’ softened rules.
ICT Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru on Thursday based the state’s push for alternative manual voting system on fears of al Shabaab interference with the 2017 poll. Muc heru, while appearing before the senate committee on legal affairs chaired by Amos Wako (Busia), defended the government’s plan to amend election laws. “We are at war with al Shabaab who are known to interfere with communication systems . The Ministry fully recommends manual back up system,” he said.He said that the option of manual system was viable not only because of terrorism but also for reasons related to challenge in the country’s telecommunication infrastructure. Mucheru said technology has failed even in the best of countries, adding that network failure and hacking can actually happen.
Editorials: Voter ID – The Smokescreen Of The Pickles Report | Michael Abberton/The Huffington Post UK
The Pickles report entitled Securing the Vote has very little to do with electoral fraud, and everything to do with vote suppression – the disenfranchisement of minorities and the poor. It also has hidden within it another insidious motive – local ‘voluntary’ registers of resident foreign nationals. The report was sneaked out right in the middle of the Xmas holidays, when parliament is not in session, obviously as the government hoped it might not get the scrutiny it warrants. The report is quite short and is based on Pickles’ involvement in the Tower Hamlets case, after the mayor was accused of electoral fraud (though no evidence of criminality was found). There are measures in the report that are based specifically on the allegations from that case; for example, electors being influenced to vote a certain way by religious leaders, something that the report recommends there should be legislation to stop (but how that would apply to bishops equally as it would to imams or other community leaders isn’t discussed).
After partial vote recounts in certain states, US election officials found no evidence that votes had been manipulated by a cyberattack on voting machines, security researchers told an audience at the Chaos Communication Congress hacking festival on Wednesday. But, the researchers called for a vast overhaul in voting machine security and related legislation, warning that an attack is still possible in a future election. “We need this because even if the 2016 election wasn’t hacked, the 2020 election might well be,” said J. Alex Halderman, a professor of computer science at the University of Michigan, during a presentation with Matt Bernhard, a computer science PhD student. Halderman’s and other security experts’ concerns made headlines in November when he participated in a call with the Clinton campaign about a potential recount in some states. Green Party candidate Jill Stein subsequently held a crowdfunding campaign to finance the recounts. “Developing an attack for one of these machines is not terribly difficult; I and others have done it again and again in the laboratory. All you need to do is buy one government surplus on eBay to test it out,” Halderman, who has extensively researched voting machine security, said during the talk.
The Obama administration could announce as early as Thursday moves to retaliate against Russia for its alleged use of cyberattacks to meddle in last month’s presidential election, a senior U.S. official said. The White House has been considering a variety of measures to respond to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, including sanctions and retaliatory cyber actions. U.S. officials have said the “proportional response” could involve both steps that would be publicly disclosed afterward and covert moves that would remain classified.
Legislators in several Northeastern and New England states are considering whether to join the growing move toward opening polling places days, and even weeks, before Election Day. Connecticut legislators will weigh a measure to allow up to two weeks of early voting before the next election. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman (D) included an early voting proposal in a package of election reforms he unveiled this month. And Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (D) will ask legislators to consider allowing early voting, as well. “We just need to expand voting infrastructure to include early voting so people can exercise their franchise, their right,” said Connecticut state Rep. William Tong (D), who plans to introduce a bill once the legislature returns to session next year. Tong said he decided to act after seeing lines out the door at 6 a.m. on Election Day in his suburban Stamford district. Some people left the long lines before they had a chance to vote to get to work on time.
Colorado voters will pick their presidential nominees via primaries in 2020 after Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed two voter-passed propositions into law on Tuesday. Voters approved Proposition 107, which eliminates presidential preference caucuses, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in November. Voters passed Proposition 108, which allows all voters to participate in partisan primary elections, by a similar margin. The new rules mean all Colorado voters will be allowed to participate in any presidential primary they choose four years from now. Delegates allocated by the primaries will be bound to the winners at national party conventions, under the new state law.
On Jan. 1, Minnesota joins the majority of U.S. states in choosing its presidential candidates in primary elections. Minnesota has used caucuses to choose presidential candidates throughout its voting history, save for three elections. While the first presidential primary under the new law won’t be held until March 2020, the system officially goes on the books Jan. 1, 2017. The shift from a caucus system to primaries is the most notable of the new laws taking effect in Minnesota at the change of the year. The others deal with minor changes to workers’ compensation and life insurance laws that won’t much affect the general public.
Missouri could soon join at least 20 other states where it is legal to take a selfie in the voting booth. Two state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would alter Missouri voting rules, paving the way for people to publicly post pictures of themselves and their ballots without fear of prosecution. “Everybody takes selfies of everything,” said Rep. Charlie Davis, R-Webb City. “Why should someone not be able to exercise their First Amendment rights?” Davis has introduced House Bill 315, which eliminates 27 words in the election code that could be used to prosecute people taking selfies after they vote. Rep. Travis Fitzwater, R-Holts Summit, has introduced an identical version of the measure in House Bill 249. The proposals come after an election cycle in which questions were raised about the legality of taking ballot selfies across the nation.
North Carolina: Gov. Pat McCrory sought SBI probe in Bladen County, but agency isn’t investigating | News & Observer
The State Bureau of Investigation hasn’t launched the criminal probe that Gov. Pat McCrory requested recently into allegations of voter fraud in Bladen County. Republicans had filed a complaint claiming that a handful of people there may have improperly submitted hundreds of absentee ballots, while also getting paid for get-out-the-vote efforts by a community group funded by the N.C. Democratic Party. The State Board of Elections held a hearing on the complaint earlier this month and rejected it, arguing that attorneys for Republicans had not presented substantial evidence sufficient to change the outcome of the election. But they unanimously agreed to refer the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. The issue stems from absentee ballots submitted with help from the Bladen County Improvement Association PAC, which received $2,500 from the N.C. Democratic Party for get-out-the-vote efforts. The ballots featured similar handwriting and the same choice for a write-in candidate for soil and water commissioner.
In Kenya, a controversial amendment to the electoral law is now before the Senate. The bill would give the electoral commission a workaround if biometric voting equipment fails, but the opposition has rejected the change for fear of voter fraud. But as political temperatures rise ahead of next year’s polls, Senate members are advising caution and careful consideration. The Senate did not vote on the amendment to the electoral law Wednesday. Instead, Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro sent the bill to committee. “The standing committee on legal affairs and human rights must, therefore, proceed with dispatch and be ready to table its report on 4 January 2017 when the Senate is expected to assemble for the special sitting,” Ethuro said.